The Poppy and The Rose by Ashlee Cowles is a Young Adult fiction about a teenage girl, Taylor Romano who goes to Oxford for a summer journalism program, following the death of her father who served in the US Army. Taylor is met by Maebelline Knight, a centenarian with a story to tell, who seeks Taylor out with an offer, but before Taylor can fully hear the offer Maebelline is dead and Taylor finds the memoir of Ava Knight, a relative of Maebeline who was on the Titanic when it sank.
The book is told in alternating chapters, the story of Taylor as she tries to figure out the mystery her father left behind in the form of a photograph of himself with another woman, and the story of Ava Knight, told through her memoir that Taylor is reading.
Taylor Romano leaves her mother in America and travels to Oxford to participate in a journalism program, but really she's there to discover why her father went to England and met another woman without telling Taylor or her mother.
Ava Knight is a young heiress who is boarding the Titanic with her father. Ava hasn't yet told her father that she plans to start a new life in the U.S. by showing a renowned female photographer her photographs and hoping to learn from the photographer. Ava is escaping a complicated home life, a mother with a laudanum addiction, and a distant father who is studying the budding discipline of Psychology.
When Taylor arrives in England she is met by Mae and her driver, who convince Taylor to have tea with them the following day, but when they arrive, Mae is dead and Taylor becomes embroiled in a race to figure out what happened to Mae, while reading Ava's memoir, as it seems the two are inextricably linked though they are separated by a century.
This book has a relatively small cast of characters for most of the plot, consisting of Taylor, Ava, Giles the butler, and the chauffeur (who actually has a rather large role, but is such a boring character that I can't actually remember his name).
Other characters included Ava's father, and the enigmatic psychic woman who appears to be seducing Ava's father all while telling Ava that the voyage is doomed, as well as the one eyed Serbian soldier who coerces Ava into following the psychic to find out what she knows about the impending conflicts in the Balkans. Confused yet? So was I, but I promise you it does all end up making sense... Sort of.
Taylor's chapters are honestly largely forgettable, I didn't feel emotionally connected to her quest to figure out who her father was with in the photograph and when that particular mystery was solved I was pretty meh about the answer. The writing of Taylor's chapters was full of cliches about the English, and she reads as a very young, immature teenager who threw a tantrum and left her mother while she fled to England to solve a "mystery".
Ava's memoir was amazing. The difference in the way they were written was like night and day, if I could have read a whole book about Ava, her family and her journey on the Titanic I would. I found the plot of the whole book a bit slow up until the 50% mark when we really got into the details of Ava's voyage and what happened on the night of the sinking. From the 60% mark I didn't stop reading until I finished the book and parts of Ava's memoir made me sob. The inclusion of historical figures and names I recognised made it all the more captivating and it was clear that Cowles had done a lot of research about those individuals and had created a place for them in her novel that was well thought out and planned.
Ava's recounting of the sinking of the Titanic was moving and at times I felt the panic she wrote about as the ship sank. It was truly phenomenal writing.
What I Didn't Love
As I said, I didn't love Taylor's chapters, and I especially didn't like the resolution to her mystery. Her character felt immature, underdeveloped and like she was simply a vehicle for the story of Ava, Taylor's chapters are basically the reader reading about a character reading a memoir, which is about as fascinating as it sounds. Watching someone read isn't exactly riveting stuff and Taylor's bratty, unsympathetic attitude toward her mother who became a widow and found evidence of her deceased husband's supposed infidelity was pretty terrible to read.
What I Loved
Ava. Ava is a kickass character who while she is bratty and spoiled in her own way, really rises to the occasion in a time of crisis and I loved reading about how she handled the sinking of the Titanic and the subsequent reveal of a lot of traumatic events in her life. Her memoir was beautifully written and emotive. I definitely cried towards the end of her memoir section and felt utterly connected to her character in a way that surprised me considering the first half of the book dragged for me.
Final Thoughts and Rating
Ashlee Cowles has written a solid historical fiction with a mystery twist that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction and particularly the history of the Titanic. I gave The Poppy and the Rose 4 out of 5 stars.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.